Sunday, September 22, 2002


The results of a survey carried out last week show that the [The Guardian’s] title as the world leader is quite secure. It revealed [so far this year] almost 700 stories in which the word fuck had been used, and 35 which had used the word cunt. The Independent still comes a very poor second (184 stories with fuck in them; four with cunt). The others are nowhere.

By comparison, the word wanker appeared in 82 stories, and crap in 392.

This represents an increase from 1998, when:

in the year up to [the end of October] there had been more than 400 pieces in the Guardian in which the word fuck or fucking appeared. In the same period there were 28 references to cunt...

The Guardian is so fond of the infamous c-word that one of their correspondents asked:

I don't want to make too much of this, but do we perhaps have a culture which finds it easier to print 'cunt' than 'vagina'?

Perhaps The Guardian should come packaged in a brown paper wrapper.

Lou Gelfand, The Minneapolis Star Tribune’s ombudsman, relates a story that I find troubling.

A twenty year-old adult, Michael Pigg, assaulted a 4 year-old boy of mixed race while reportedly directing “racially derogatory names at the child.” Rather than imposing “a traditional jail sentence,” Judge Robert King decided to impose a “ten-month counseling relationship” on Pigg with a retired surgeon, David Harris, who is a member of something called the “Red Wing Human Rights Commission.” For an unstated reason, Gelfand supplies the information that Harris is the grandson of a Jewish immigrant.

Gelfand reports that Pigg and Harris reached an agreement that, while Pigg could not talk to the press about the counseling, Harris was free to do so provided he did “not divulge certain details of Pigg’s life.” Any reason it was felt to be beneficial that Harris would grant “media interviews” about his counseling relationship with Pigg is left unstated.

Anyway, Harris was interviewed by the Star Tribune with the understanding that Pigg’s picture would not accompany the piece, because “the picture would destroy his relationship” with Pigg. It was also planned that the story would appear in the newspaper’s Variety section. Due however to some internal miscommunications, the Star Tribune gave the story front-page placement and used Pigg’s jail booking picture.

According to Gelfand, the story generated positive responses from readers -- at least for Mr. Harris:

"Knowing that even Mr. Harris is still learning and growing and continuing to find tolerance provides me with inspiration."

"You have written graphically about the marvelous involvement by a true man of peace."

"The judge's sentence seems to have been heaven sent for Mr. Pigg."

"While the world may be changed, either for better or for worse, one person a time, articles such as this might speed progress for the better."

Gelfand does leave one important clue that I find troubling. Pigg is quoted as telling Harris that, "I told you that you can't trust the newspaper."

It is appropriate, and even desirable, for a judge to find an alternative to sending a person to jail, when the alternative promises to have some rehabilitative value and the person does not pose a considerable threat to the public safety. A mentoring or counseling relationship may be an appropriate alternative.

In this case, however, Pigg himself was not permitted to talk to the press, and I see no legitimate purpose for Harris to be granting “media interviews” about his relationship with Pigg. Given Pigg’s reaction, “I told you that you can't trust the newspaper,” it’s clear that he was not in favor of Harris talking to the press.

The fact that a reluctant Pigg was being used to generate positive publicity for Harris and for the “Red Wing Human Rights Commission” reflects badly on the judge’s decision. He should insure that it doesn’t happen again.

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